Photo by Minh Tran

AS MORE BIKES—and bike lanes, bike boxes, and hilarious bike shorts—get on the roads in Portland, the legal questions surrounding rights to the road get more complicated. Longtime local bike lawyer Ray Thomas hosts a legal workshop at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance every month to field some common cycling questions. His most helpful slogan? "Don't be a prick." Here's a condensed version of his legal insight. Download his full primer Pedal Power at stc-law.com.

What's the law surrounding bikes on sidewalks, especially on bridges and in downtown?

According to Thomas, it's legal to ride on the sidewalk everywhere in Portland except downtown between SW Jefferson, Naito Parkway, NW Hoyt, and 13th Avenue, where you face a $500 fine. The sidewalks on bridges are actually "multi-use paths," which bikes can ride on as long as they yield to pedestrians.

What are those new giant bikes with arrows painted on the road?

Those are called "sharrows." They don't have any legal meaning, they're just designed to give cyclists a psychological presence on the road.

Are buses legally required to yield to bikes in a bike lane before pulling to the curb?

All vehicles are supposed to yield the right of way to people in the bike lane, but there's an exception for vehicles operating "in course of official duty." But there's no excuse for a bus cutting you off too closely. "It's gotten a lot better because now the bus drivers are afraid they're going to squish us," says Thomas.

Can bikes cut across traffic lanes and pass stopped cars?

If you're not slowing down traffic, you can cross between lanes. Bikes are allowed to pass someone on the right, so if there's a long line of cars stopped at a light or stuck in traffic, feel free to zip by. Just watch for doors.

What's the point of those green bike boxes?

They're designed to make it so bicyclists can gather at the front of the line at a light, rather than being spaced out along the right and liable to get right-hooked by a turning car. Even without a bike box, when the cars are totally locked up at a light, you can roll past to the front.

Does the no-cell-phone-while-driving law apply to bikes too?

The text of the law only applies to motor vehicles, but there is another statute that says all motor vehicle laws apply to bicyclists, unless by nature it's irrelevant to bikes. So though Thomas has never seen it tested, the cell phone law probably applies to bikes too.

Ray's next bike law class is Wednesday, November 17, 6-7 pm. Details here.